I finished my 2011 Appalachian Trail thru-hike on October 22nd at the side trail to the ATC in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The Pirates and I rented out a whole hostel and invited family and friends to join us. We ended up having a group of 25 people. We all hiked my last 3.5 miles together from the hostel into Harpers Ferry. I talked a lot before about the trail being a solitary adventure, but I have been so grateful to be around friends those last few weeks. The Pirates are a wonderful group of positive people, and we all helped make each others’ hike better by motivating when the group was tired, or remaining cheerful even when we were sore and soaked from the rain. We came up with fun ways to pass the time, like holding an Autumn leaf beauty contest, or creating light paintings with our cameras. The Pirates made my last few days on the trail wonderful and I am so grateful for their company. Even though I felt so happy and full of pride on my last day, it was still really hard to say goodbye to my friends, who would be hiking on towards Georgia after I left. I plan on visiting them and sending them care packages for the rest of their hike.
Now I’m back home at my parents’ house in Connecticut. I am working on gathering donations, cleaning my gear, and going through all of the stuff that has piled up in my old bedroom over the years. I have already set aside a huge pile of clothes and toys to go to Goodwill. The trail taught me that most objects are superfluous and that you can actually get by with very little. I have just over $10,000 in pledges now to go to Beardsley School and Teach For America. I have collected checks from about half of the donors and I am excited to get the rest of the money in and sent off to the organizations. I am so glad I decided to make that a part of my hike. One thing I thought a lot about as I walked was how important it was to me that I be doing something with my life that will make a difference in the world. This is a good start. I hope to also find some good volunteering opportunities once I move to New York.
I learned so many lessons about myself and about the world on my thru-hike, but the biggest one I learned is that a positive attitude makes all the difference. If you choose to have a good time, you pretty much always will. I also loved the healthy lifestyle I had out on the trail. I spent a lot of time planning and dehydrating meals before I left, so I ate really well while I was hiking. I was also exercising every day and enjoying time outside. The challenge is continuing the positive attitude and healthy living now that I’m off the trail. Now I’m temped by fast food and television and chocolates. I have to remind myself that I want to stay positive and happy, and the best way to do that is to get outside. Sitting in my parents’ living room watching episodes of 30 Rock will not make me happy.
Another thing I learned on the trail was that often your biggest obstacle is your own mind. There were so many days where I convinced myself that I hurt too much and I couldn’t make it to the next shelter, or that the next mountain was so big that I wouldn’t get down it before dark. The more I stressed and worried about it, the slower I got and the more miserable I felt. After experiencing a number of those days and realizing that no matter what, I always made it somewhere, I began to relax. By the end I knew that I could make whatever goal I set for myself as long as I wanted it and stayed positive. Once I learned that, I stopped stressing and I enjoyed the hike a lot more. I’m trying to bring those lessons into my life now too. When I face challenges from now on I will remind myself that all it takes is wanting to meet the challenge, and knowing that you can. Besides, what could be challenging after hiking 2,181 miles?
The coolest thing that happened to me since being home was my visit to the Orthopedist. My knees, hips and ankles were aching so much after getting off the trail, even waking me up in the middle of the night some nights. I went in to the Orthopedist to see if I had done any permanent damage, and to get my stress fracture checked out. The doctor felt my knees, moved my legs around and took x-rays of my foot. When the x-ray came back we went to look at it together. You could see clearly that my fractured bone was now thicker than the other bones, and bulged out where the fracture had been. The doctor explained that this was new bone and that I had healed myself. None of the other damage had been permanent either. I was going to hurt for another month or so, but after that I would be fine. I felt like Superwoman coming out of that office. I had hiked over 1,000 miles on a stress fracture, and somehow managed to heal it and do no other damage to my body.
I miss the trail a lot, but I’m excited for the next chapter of my life. I know that whatever I go on to do after this, I’m going to do it well.
Thanks for listening!
To view the time lapse video I made of my hair growing out along the hike, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0aw6JAtUaU